Federal Court: No First Amendment Right to Record Cops Unless Challenging Police

Police PDPHILADELPHIA (Washington Post) In recent years, lower federal courts have generally held that the First Amendment protects a right to video-record (and photograph) in public places, especially when one is recording public servants such as the police.

Because recording events that you observe in public places is important to be able to speak effectively about what you observe, courts held, the First Amendment protects such recording.

Some restrictions on such recording may be constitutional, but simply prohibiting the recording because the person is recording the police can’t be constitutional. This is the view of all the precedential federal appellate decisions that have considered the issue. (The Supreme Court hasn’t expressly considered this question.)

But Friday’s federal trial court decision in Fields v. City of Philadelphia takes a different, narrower approach: There is no constitutional right to videorecord police, the court says, when the act of recording is unaccompanied by “challenge or criticism” of the police conduct. (The court doesn’t decide whether there would be such a right if the challenge or criticism were present.)

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  • The Skeptical Chymist

    This is a ridiculous ruling. How can one know ahead of time whether the police will engage in an activity that deserves to be challenged, until the activity occurs? It should always be legal to record video of the police! This is not a police state, yet!

    • Ambulance Chaser

      It has been ruled legal to record anywhere in public; I can’t imagine why it would suddenly be different if there happened to be police in front of your camera.

      But, I don’t trust this site to deliver accurate interpretations of judicial rulings, so I reserve judgment.

      • The Skeptical Chymist

        “I don’t trust this site to deliver accurate interpretations of judicial rulings” — I agree.

        • Diaris

          • The Skeptical Chymist


        • robertzaccour

          Do you even bother to click source hyperlinks to see where the information comes from? Articles on this site do have source links. If you took a couple seconds to click on the source link you would have realized that the information came from a different website and isn’t an “interpretation” from Christian News.

          • gizmo23

            But they do edit stories from other sources

      • hytre64

        Read the whole article from the Washington Post or some other paper, and you will see that this article was 100% accurate.

        • Ambulance Chaser

          Well, the article is more or less accurate. I didn’t accuse it of not being so, I just stated that something being published on Christian News Network doesn’t automatically make it true.

          In this case, however, the ruling is what’s bad, not the CNN article.

  • robertzaccour

    Do you know who’s overwhelmingly in favor of police being recorded? The good cops.

    • So one can challenge a policeman as to whether he is a good cop or a bad cop simply by recording him. Surely this simple observation makes the judgment moot!

  • Nidalap

    I’m going to guess that this was not in regard to a Black Lives Matter event…